25 Jan 2019

A revitalised Kerry Hotel Kowloon will take on the league’s model of consistency in Natixis HKFC in tomorrow’s Saxo Capital Markets Premiership Game of the Week at King’s Park.


In other Premiership action, league leading Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish will look to get back on track after suffering their first loss since October, when they meet Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay at Aberdeen. Societe Generale Valley will be putting their newest silverware, the Broonie Quaich, on the line against Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers at Happy Valley in a fixture with significant table implications.  All matches kick off at 15.00.


After suffering a rash of injuries that saw them without 26 frontline players before Christmas, a rested Kowloon have welcomed back several returning starters and managed to record their first back-to-back wins of the season in 2019.


The turnaround started with a last-second drop goal win over Sandy Bay to start the year, lifting Kowloon off the bottom of the table for the first time. They backed that impressive outing up with an upset of Tigers last Saturday to improve their position to fifth overall on 15 points, eleven adrift of fourth placed Tigers (26). This year’s top four Premiership finishers will automatically advance to the two-round Grand Championships play-off.


With four rounds remaining in the Premiership, Kowloon coach Scott Sneddon welcomed his returning depth.


“We’re in a much better state than we were in December, having a few lads back from injury, while the others have had a chance to get some deserved rest, as they were obviously backing up week to week before the break, considering our injuries.


“We were in a pretty tough place going into that final game of the year, but now the boys are back and they have really responded right out of the box in the last couple of games.”


Most important for Sneddon is the style of the recent wins: “I’ve probably been most pleased with the nature of those wins. We had to dig deep at times, and where in the first five games of the season we were losing most games by seven points, now we’re winning them by the same margin.


“We probably deserve a bit of luck after what we’ve been through, but you have to earn that luck, which I think we have done over the past couple of weeks.”


The positive signs started in Kowloon’s first outing against Sandy Bay, when they mounted an end-to-end attack in the final minutes, completing 20 phases to set up the winning drop goal at the hooter.  Last weekend, Kowloon exploded out of the gates against Tigers, scoring 21 unanswered points in the first quarter before nearly giving them all back later in the half and eventually surviving a 29-25 victory.


“We started almost too good. Going 21-0 up after 15 minutes or so. We took the foot of the gas I guess, but Tigers are a good side, so we were obviously pleased with that result.


“Now we have to back it up again tomorrow in what is going to be another tough game. Football Club are so strong, if they pick up injuries they can bring on Hong Kong qualified lads and they almost have two very good players in every position, really.


“Physically, we are going to need to step up again from last week. Club have a big pack and some good ball carriers, so we need to withstand that. And we need to be disciplined in everything we do. They will kick for the corner or for goal and Glyn, [Football Club fly-half Glyn Hughes], is a a very good kicker. We’ve also got to be right on it defensively, as they can strike from anywhere.”


While Sneddon is pleased with the number of players now passing fit for duty, he acknowledges that the best case scenario is a return to 80% of their pre-season strength, with several players ruled out for the season, including (in the past week) hooker Charlie Piper, who broke his thumb on the last play against Tigers.  That is a fresh blow for Kowloon after Piper impressed as one of the club’s most impactful off-season signings.


“We’re still missing probably 20% of our main guys and will continue to miss them, and now Charlie, but it just creates opportunities for other guys to step up,” said Sneddon.


Hong Kong hooker Alex Harris is the immediate beneficiary of Piper’s absence as he steps into the front row on Saturday against Football Club.


While realistic about the chances of a late-season surge into the top four and a spot in the grand championship play-offs, (which would need real cooperation from other clubs by way of results), Sneddon remains intent on pushing his side to peak performance in the home stratch.


“That’s [running the table] got to be an aim for us, but we have to be realistic.


“Prior to Christmas we had one win out of nine. We are two from two post-Christmas which is great, but we can’t look any further than tomorrow.


“We need to keep backing those performances up now, week by week. We can’t look too far ahead. We will see where we are at half-past-four tomorrow and go from there,” he added.